As the NFL and players ponder their next moves in the national controversy over player actions during the national anthem, President Trump had the issue on his mind again Wednesday morning, offering up a tweet that the NFL quickly rebutted.
“It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem,” he tweeted shortly before 7 a.m. EDT. ” — RESPECT OUR COUNTRY.”
The NFL disputed that characterization as well as reports along those lines.
“Commentary this morning about the Commissioner’s position on the Anthem is not accurate. As we said yesterday, there will be a discussion of these issues at the owners meeting next week,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to The Post. “The NFL is doing the hard work of trying to move from protest to progress, working to bring people together. Commissioner Goodell spent yesterday with Miami Dolphins players, law enforcement and community leaders witnessing first-hand the outstanding work our players and clubs are doing to strengthen their communities. Players from around the league will be in New York next week to meet with owners to continue our work together.”
Goodell, as The Post reported Tuesday, had stopped short of saying the NFL would require players to stand, but in a letter to teams he strongly suggested that owners at next week’s meeting find a way to marry activism on social issues with the show of patriotism.
“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the national anthem,” Goodell wrote to NFL club presidents and chief executives. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”
Goodell said the league’s plan would include “an in-season platform to promote the work of players” on social issues, “and that will help to promote positive change in our country.” One source told The Post’s Mark Maske that “there is no fixed proposal. We will have a discussion around all of these issues.”
To that end, Goodell spent part of Tuesday in a ride-along with Miami law-enforcement members and three members of the Dolphins who have regularly taken a knee during the anthem to raise awareness of social injustice and racial inequality. It’s part of an awareness by the NFL that it can’t just force something onto the players. It has to find a way, as SI’s Peter King put it, for players to win, too. “The endgame?” King writes. “My gut feeling is the league will start by offering to devote a week or weeks — the way the NFL does with cancer causes (‘Crucial Catch’) or the military (‘Salute to Service’) — to fund and partner with players to highlight and sponsor work on civil rights causes in NFL communities.”
In a memo sent to Goodell last month, three active players and another who is retired asked that the league dedicate the month of November to activism awareness. After a Sunday on which some players continued to kneel while others linked arms as they stood as a team, it is unclear what this Sunday’s games will bring. The story was sidetracked last weekend when Vice President Pence walked out after the anthem in Indianapolis, where the Colts were facing the 49ers, a team that has protested for over a year.
At least two owners have sought to force their players to stand and there is an awareness among some that they cannot just command players to do their bidding. Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys said that any of who players who do not stand will be benched, a stance that has already brought him one headache in the form of a lawsuit by a labor union that represents workers in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana and contends that his threat violates the National Labor Relations Act. Local 100 of the United Labor Unions filed the complaint Tuesday with the Fort Worth office of the National Labor Relations Board, asking the NLRB to “investigate preemptively in order to prevent illegal firings of players.”
Stephen Ross of the Miami Dolphins has said he expects his players and Coach Adam Gase has enacted that policy, but allows for players to remain in the locker room or in the tunnel leading to the field during the anthem. Jones may feel that he is being reasonable, but David Moore of the Dallas Morning News writes that it “comes across as imperious” and noted that Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price called Jones’s order, “Slaves, obey your master.”
Guidelines for the anthem are contained in the game operations manual given to teams, not the publicly available NFL rule book. That manual says: “The national anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the national anthem.
“During the national anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the national anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”
As another week of games approaches, players and teams are likely to continue to demonstrate, whether it’s by taking a knee or standing with arms linked, as they seek to reestablish that their demonstrations are aimed at inequality, not at the military or the flag.
“I think we’ve seen even over the last year that you can take a player out of the league, you can threaten to do whatever you want to do, that’s not going to deter players from doing what’s right, or doing what they believe is right,” Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles said Tuesday (via ESPN). “You might be able to change the manner in which that looks but I don’t see players stopping their pursuit for justice or equality.”
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